Sunday, September 23, 2012

Saudi women have proven themselves in leadership roles

The column was originally published in Arab news
An extraordinary thing happened this week in Riyadh. Maybe it wouldn’t be so special in another country, but for Saudi Arabia it was a moment that makes one stand up and take notice.
That special event occurred at the Shoura Council meeting where Dr. Muneera Al-Osaimi and Dr. Afaf Altuwaitjri, the first women to become members of the inner circle of the Ministry of Health, rose and spoke before Shoura Council members about the ministry’s projects.
They were the first women to address the council. The council chambers reverberated with thunderous applause from an appreciative audience, but the sky did not fall and the ground did not shake. Rather, peace prevailed in the Kingdom.
Yes, I may sound a little sarcastic, but the event should put to rest any criticism of women actively engaging in government business. Consider the significance of the event: Two women — not on a video monitor — addressing the all-male Shoura Council. Their presence fills me with hope and optimism that women will have an active role in Shoura Council matters and not remain as mere observers.

Al-Osaimi and Altuwaitjri demonstrated that women are capable of handling the same job as men and the responsibility that comes with it. If these women could defend the important programs implemented by the Ministry of Health, then it stands to reason that they could do the same as Shoura Council members.
King Abdullah, through his wisdom and forward thinking, has opened many doors for women over the past seven years.
The university scholarship program that bears his name and the employment opportunities in the retail business sector are only two of many examples of the strides women have made in such a short time.
Working women are becoming true members of Saudi society. Name me one ministry that does not touch the lives of Saudi women.
If women become the beneficiaries of decisions made by these ministries, shouldn’t they also be part of the decision-making process?
Shouldn’t decisions affecting the lives of millions of Saudi women be made by women and for women?
I am not suggesting that decisions affecting the lives of women be made solely by females. But certainly the doors to high levels of government, such as levels that now include Al-Osaimi and Altuwaitjri, should be open to women to help in the decision-making process.
We have already witnessed Saudi women taking control of their lives. For one, Saudi women are waiting longer to get married. And for those who do get married, they are seeing the Saudi divorce rate rise rapidly.
The reasons are obvious. Women are no longer settling for living the way their mothers and grandmothers did. They understand there is a world out there that is inviting. Pursuing an education, jobs and marriage are decisions they want to make, not have others make for them.
But they also need a little help in making those decisions. Women in strategic positions in government, whether it’s the Shoura Council or in the ministries, will help them achieve their goals while at the same time help them remain true to Islam, their families and to their country.
Yet there are signs that restrictions on Saudi women stubbornly remain. Passport restrictions were finally lifted for Saudi women to visit Gulf Cooperation Council countries, but receiving permission to leave the country just got a little more difficult.
Women traveling alone used to carry a yellow card from their mahram that gave them permission to leave the country.
Now that card — a hard copy that single women cherish almost as much as their passport — is now replaced by an online version.
The mahram must go to the passport office and register his permission online.
Passport control officers at the border will view the permission online, which deprives the woman from having physical evidence that she has permission to leave the country. She will be at the mercy that the passport office competently registered the mahram’s permission.
This contrast between the trust the Ministry of Health demonstrated by giving its two female administrators the job of addressing the Shoura Council and the policy of keeping women on a short leash, as evidenced with the new passport office regulations, is painful.
Saudi women have come a long way in the past 10 years. This week’s wonderful reception from appreciative Shoura Council members toward their sisters is heartening for all women.
It’s my hope that the trust and appreciation so evident by the Shoura Council will extend to giving women a chance to join the council as full voting members and allow them the freedom, with consultation from their families, to choose their own path.


KHC said...

Fantastic news; I am so excited about women in the Shoura! Great post.

The Linoleum Surfer said...

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Keep up the good work, Dr Sabria. :)